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Luevano looming large for Lopez

FEW world champions nowadays seem content to stay in their own weight divisions -- they all want more. It's no different for Puerto Rican sensation Juan Manuel Lopez.

Tonight, at New York's Madison Square Garden, the current WBO super- bantamweight champion will attempt to capture the same organisation's featherweight belt from Steven Luevano.

Lopez is a strong favourite, but he's not taking anything for granted against an opponent who has only lost once in 39 bouts and has defended five times the title he won by knocking out Nicky Cook in London two and a half years ago.

"Luevano is a great fighter," admitted Lopez. "He's pretty polished and technical. He doesn't lose control during a fight, but I've seen that if you pressure him you can give him trouble."

And few are better at applying pressure than Lopez, who is definitely the heavier hitter of the two. He has won all his 27 fights to date, 24 inside the distance, whereas Luevano has only 15 stoppage wins.

"I'm not going in looking for a knockout, but if the opportunity presents itself, of course I will take it," said Lopez. "Luevano is not known as a big puncher, but I will respect his power as I do all opposition."

The 26-year-old Puerto Rican won the super-bantamweight title with a sensational first round KO of Daniel Ponce de Leon in 2008 and has defended it four times, only once being forced to go the distance.

But it was in that last fight, when he struggled to outpoint tough journeyman Rogers Mtagwa, that observers noticed for the first time the flaws in the all-conquering Lopez's fighting make-up.



Limit

Unable to seriously hurt Mtagwa, he was pushed to the limit by the Philadelphia-based Tanzanian and was close to being stopped late on.

Don Stradley wrote in The Ring that, "watching Lopez totter around the ring during the 12th round was like watching a drunk, blindfolded man coming perilously close to an open elevator shaft, only to lurch away at the last moment".

Analysing his own disappointing performance, Lopez said he wasn't exhausted, as many had suggested, but genuinely hurt.

"Everyone thought it was going to be easy for me, but I knew it would be a hard fight. At first I was outboxing him but, because he was so easy to hit, I started to trade with him in the seventh round and that was when it got tough.

"I learned a lot from that fight. I learned that I have to maintain my composure. I got too excited and started throwing more punches than was necessary. I also learned that if I'm dominating a fight by using my boxing skills, I shouldn't change the rhythm of the fight by slugging it out."

Lopez said he was really looking forward to tonight's encounter, with his idol, Felix 'Tito' Trinidad, among a large contingent of Puerto Rican fans roaring him on.

Luevano didn't have much to say on his arrival in New York on Tuesday, except that he had trained very hard for the fight and expected to take the featherweight belt home to California.

"I expect a hard fight, but I also expect to win," predicted Luevano, whose sole defeat was a unanimous decision he dropped to Martin Honorio in 2005.

It's likely that Lopez will take his time sizing up his opponent -- they are both southpaws -- and then step up the pressure in the second half of the bout. A clear points win or a late stoppage should result.